Looking to create a more positive impact and footprint on the world, Aquafil CEO and chairman Giulio Bonazzi wanted to transform the company his parents founded in 1956 into a circular business model. His team studied how to create a sustainable ingredient with a smaller environmental impact, and in 2011, following five years of research and development, the ECONYL Regeneration System launched.
ECONYL nylon is 100% regenerated and regenerable. Through chemical and mechanical processes, nylon is recovered and recycled from waste materials including fishing nets, textile scraps and carpets and transformed into nylon yarn.
(Photo: Nylon carpet yarn is being produced in Arco, Italy. This plant location focuses on polymerization and carpet yarn spinning. Credit: Aquafil.)
Bonazzi says that ECONYL is the only commercially available nylon made of 100% waste material, with a minimum certified of 50% from post-consumer waste, and can be recycled an infinite number of times without any loss in quality.
“We’ve been able to move beyond recycling to create a true circular process,” Bonazzi explains. “Now, I view waste as an abundant resource. When I see a landfill, I see a goldmine.”
Reducing Environmental Impact
Aquafil is working with brands and manufacturers in what Bonazzi calls “historically wasteful industries like fashion and carpet” to reduce their environmental impact. The desire for new and sustainable materials can create a conflict, and creating trend-led products poses huge environmental challenges.
[Related: How Duvaltex Created the Industry’s First Biodegradable Polyester]
As more companies create with and more manufacturers seek out sustainable materials, Bonazzi envisions the market opportunity to increase for designers who are actively choosing a sustainable supply chain. “Designers have an incredible opportunity to not only reach, but consciously influence consumers by choosing to create with a material like ECONYL that can help brands close the loop,” he says.
By the numbers
- ∞ Times ECONYL can be regenerated without quality issues
- 100% Waste material goes into ECONYL creation
- 10,000 Tons of ECONYL raw material saves 70,000 barrels of crude oil and avoids 57,100 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions
- 750 Brands have contracts to use ECONYL in their product
- 170 colors available for ECONYL regenerated nylon
ECONYL carpet fibers are eligible for LEED v4 credits. “Contributing to LEED credits is a very important motivator for our partners,” Bonazzi says, “and we’re proud to be part of the green building and design movement.”
If you attended this year’s NeoCon, ECONYL carpet was featured. The NeoCon Plaza had broadloom carpets made by Interface with ECONYL nylon. The Urban Boardwalk featured garden patio tiles to create a comfortable space that gave attendees a place to network, collaborate, relax and enjoy NeoCon outside of theMART in Chicago. After NeoCon, the carpets were returned to Aquafil’s own carpet recycling plant to be recycled.
(Photo: ECONYL carpet was on display at this year’s NeoCon. The Urban Boardwalk featured garden patio tiles to create a comfortable space that gave attendees a place to network and relax outside theMART in Chicago. Credit: NeoCon.)
“Together we can make it an opportunity to transform the industry and inspire change,” Bonazzi says. “ECONYL regenerated nylon is a circular-ready material that can be a powerful tool in the hands of designers to create sustainable products that can be recycled again and again.”
Aquafil Recycling Efforts
The Carpet America Recovery Effort estimates that about 5 billion pounds of carpet went to the landfill in 2017 alone, and because of all the different carpet parts, pieces and materials, it’s difficult to recycle the finished product.
To address those challenges, Aquafil established carpet recycling facilities—one in Phoenix in 2018 and another this year in Woodland, CA—focused on disassembling spent carpets into their three main components: Nylon 6, polypropylene and calcium carbonate.
(Photo: ECONYL carpet at this year's NeoCon. Credit: NeoCon.)
“Each carpet recycling facility will have the capacity to collect and treat 35 million pounds of carpet per year, making a sizeable dent in the waste stream,” Bonazzi notes.
The goal is to recycle as much carpet waste as possible through carpet disassembly by establishing a number of these facilities throughout the U.S., getting Aquafil closer to its goal of producing ECONYL yarn from 100% post-consumer waste.
(Photo: Carpet yarn is seen at Aquafil’s plant in Arco, Italy. The plant is also the company headquarters. Credit: Aquafil.)
“My motto is ‘design with the end in mind,’” Bonazzi says, noting that thinking about the end is key to producing products that will be easier to recycle.
“We want to inspire change, both in the way that architects and designers look for materials and the way they design the final products. We rely on architects and designers to see the waste issue as a pressing matter and inspire them to create with sustainable materials in the first phase of product development,” Bonazzi says.
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